Libyan government forces pushed Western-backed insurgents from the centre of the strategic city of Zawiya today amid fierce fighting to try to prevent the rebels from consolidating their advance to within 30 miles of Tripoli.
Insurgents entered Zawiya on Saturday after making swift advances but became bogged down the following day when they suffered heavy casualties from shelling by soldiers from the centre and east of the town.
Battles today concentrated on the main coastal road connecting the capital and the border crossing with Tunisia.
Outgunned rebels on the outskirts of Zawiya complained that they were running low on ammunition.
Some sat huddled on the sides of streets, taking cover by the walls of buildings as they waited for more supplies to arrive.
Libyan leader Muammar Gadaffi called upon his supporters to liberate rebel-held towns in a live audio message broadcast by state TV yesterday morning.
"The Libyan people will remain and the Fateh revolution will remain," Colonel Gadaffi declared, referring to the 1969 coup that booted out British-backed monarch Idriss al-Senussi.
"Advance, challenge, pick up your weapons and fight to liberate Libya inch by inch from the traitors and Nato," he said.
"Get ready to fight. The blood of martyrs is fuel for the battlefield."
Col Gadaffi rubbished rumours on social networking sites that he was preparing to flee the country.
''The coloniser and its agents can now only resort to lies and psychological warfare after all the wars with all the weapons have failed,'' he announced.
Government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim later insisted that "the leader is here in Libya, fighting for the freedom of our nation. He will not leave Libya."
Meanwhile in neighbouring Tunisia UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon's envoy to Libya held talks with Libyan government diplomats and rebel representatives in a Tunis hotel.
Mr Ban reaffirmed on Thursday his "strongly held belief that there can be no military solution to the Libyan crisis."
He said that "a ceasefire that is linked to a political process which would meet the aspirations of the Libyan people is the only viable means to achieving peace and security in Libya."
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